The Supreme Court has agreed to review a challenge to a California law that was set to take effect this year that was intended to curb animal cruelty by banning the sale of veal, pork, and eggs that were not humanely raised.
You may recall talk of a looming bacon shortage late last year, as Prop 12 from 2018 was set to take effect on January 1. California voters approved Proposition 12, which "ban[s] the sale of (a) veal from calves, (b) pork from breeding pigs, and (c) eggs from hens when the animals are confined to areas below minimum square-feet requirements." And while the issue with veal and eggs from inhumane farms looked less likely to impact supplies in the state, pork production is another story, and both grocery chains and pig farmers pushed back and said they would not be able to comply with the law quickly or at reasonable expense.
To be clear, all the law requires is that pigs raised for slaughter are given enough room to turn around in their pens. And California allowed a delay for when the law takes effect, which is why no "bacon apocalypse" has occurred so far.
The National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation sued the state, and now the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case. As the Associated Press reports, the case is expected to be argued in the court's next term, which begins in October.
It has been assumed all along that Prop 12 would lead to higher prices for veal and pork products in California, and perhaps less availability of cheap, factory-farmed eggs — the state already produces a lot of its own eggs that meet the requirements for hens and ample cage space.
But this suit is the angle that California voters shouldn't be able to impact the cost of meat for the rest of the country. The suit states that the "massive costs of complying" with the law will "fall almost exclusively on out-of-state farmers' and suggests that those costs will have to be passed on to everyone nationwide.
As we previously noted, California consumes about 13% of the nation's pork, which means that pork producers will be forced to comply with the law or else lose that market share to producers who will.
The plaintiffs in the suit are arguing that California's law interferes with interstate commerce and sound business practices, as the New York Times reports. And their attorneys said in a brief, "Almost no sow farmers in the country satisfy Proposition 12’s sow housing requirements, and most believe that those requirements would harm their animals, employees and operations."
That seems kind of spurious — more space would harm the animals? California Attorney General Rob Bonta filed his own brief, saying that the plaintiffs "overstate the practical economic effects of Proposition 12," and asserting that voters have a legitimate interest in restricting "extreme methods of farm animal confinement," and in protecting their own food supply from the ill effects of factory farming, like food-borne illnesses. Bonta adds that "a number of pork producers and suppliers have publicly announced that they have taken steps to ensure that their products will continue to be sold lawfully in California" when the law takes effect.
But because California doesn't do any (large-scale) pork production of its own, the plaintiffs argue that the new law effectively tries to regulate pig farming in other states like Iowa.
A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals previously ruled against the pork producers, saying, "State laws that regulate only conduct in the state, including the sale of products in the state, do not have impermissible extraterritorial effects."
But it sounds like the conservative-dominated Supreme Court may disagree, or why would they have taken up the case? In any event, we likely won't know the outcome until next year, and the inhuman pork products are likely to stay on our shelves until then.